Like so many Canadian celebrities, it had to go make it big in the United States before it could come back to Canada and be welcomed. I’m talking about the Occupy Wall Street movement, which was born in Vancouver at Adbusters magazine.
As the movement has spread across the United States and around the world before finally ‘coming home’ to cities in Canada, people of the United Church have become involved by taking part in the protests, visiting the occupied sites, and providing material and spiritual support.
Interfaith collaboration and “protest chaplains” – providing pastoral care to protesters at the scene of the protests – have been an important part of the occupy movement. I have just spoken by phone with the Rev. Alexa Gilmour of Windermere United Church in Toronto. Alexa is among those offering pastoral support to the protesters gathered at St. James Park where approximately 200 souls are encamped. I am grateful that Alexa feels that she has the support of her congregational members and her moderator to follow the call to be there – not only for the protesters but for others as well, including security staff and police. As Alexa says, “Truly, we’re a 100% community.” And as Parker Palmer says, one of our ‘habits of the heart’ must be to understand that we are all in this together.
These actions are deeply rooted in the tradition of the United Church which as early as 1934, in the midst of the Depression, called members and ministers to "to study and understand the existing social order...to arouse the Christian conscience when injustice and intolerable conditions are discovered." The church's 2006 report, Living Faithfully in the Midst of Empire, identifies national and global inequalities that threaten life. Indeed the richest 10 percent of adults in the world own 85 percent of global household wealth. This inequality challenges the faith we profess as followers of Jesus.
The Occupy movement has prompted strong reactions. The New York Times characterized the outrage against the peaceful protests as “remarkably hysterical.”
Much has been made of the fact that the Occupy movement, which describes itself as "a leaderless resistance movement with people of many colours, genders, and political persuasions," appears to have no coherent goals. What is it resisting? Where does it want to go?
For my part, I see the movement as both a search for hope and a statement of hope, made by people who have come to believe that something is deeply wrong in the staggering inequality of our current society. I don’t think it is required of anyone to provide a complete, documented solution before they’re allowed to express concern. To the contrary, recognizing that “something is not right” is the essential first step toward defining change.
The United Church's 1997 statement, Mending the World, encourages us "to work in partnership with all who seek the health and well-being of the whole creation." As such, United Church members who wish to learn more about the movement should feel encouraged to do so. Visit occupy sites and learn first hand about the concerns of those involved.
If you find people who are seeking justice and the promise of abundant life for all, then consider how you can help.
I write these words having just taken the train from Chatham to Windsor, near the end of my official visits to Hamilton and London conferences. I’m deeply moved by all that I’ve seen of United Church members and leaders who are actively participating in on-the-ground community efforts to seek justice and participate in God’s healing and mending work toward abundant life for all. The occupy movement is yet another expression of our hope.
Perhaps it could be said that our Christian hope occupies us as much as we occupy it.
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